Press Release
February 24, 2021

"The Perennial Crisis of the Education System"
Delivered by the Honorable Win Gatchalian, Senator of the 18th Congress:

Mr. President, esteemed colleagues, I take the floor today to present a sobering assessment of the quality of education being provided to children enrolled in Philippine elementary, junior and senior high schools. In the same way that students are tested at the end of a lesson to gauge how well they have mastered the skills and knowledge taught to them, we must also assess the efficacy of the education system itself in imparting the requisite skills and knowledge for future generations of Filipinos to survive, thrive, and lead in our society. Sa madaling salita, kailangan po nating masuri nang husto kung natututo ba ang ating mga mag- aaral sa kanilang mga paaralan.

The quality of basic education has been a hot-button issue for decades now. We need not look any further than the landmark 1991 report of the Congressional Commission on Education or EDCOM, where it was boldly stated, and I quote:

"The quality of Philippine education is declining continuously. Our elementary and high schools are failing to teach the competence the average citizen needs to become responsible, productive and self- fulfilling."

Looking back on three decades of education reform since then, it is clear that the 1991 EDCOM Report served as a jarring wake-up call to push government into action. In fact, succeeding administrations have implemented many of the reforms proposed by EDCOM.

To improve bureaucratic governance, the monolithic Department of Education, Culture, and Sports was broken up under the principle of trifocalization into DepEd, CHED, and TESDA. The budget for basic education has grown substantially, from PHP 28.1 billion in 1990 to PHP 554.2 billion in 2020. Not surprisingly, the DepEd budget as a percentage of GDP has also grown from 2.3% to 3.1% over the same period. Student-to- teacher ratio has improved from 36 and 38 in elementary school and junior high schools in 2010 to less than 30 at all levels of basic-ed in 2019. The total number of classrooms has also grown significantly, from 574,084 in 2016 to 710,085 in 2019. Student-to- classroom ratio has also improved, from 37 per elementary and 57 per high school classroom in 2005 to 29, 39, and 31 in elementary, JHS, and SHS classrooms by 2019. These are just a few of many good developments inspired by the 1991 EDCOM Report, resulting in a significant increase in public education investments.

Despite all this, however, student performance still lags behind in one of the key barometers of educational quality - the standardized test scores. Significantly, the EDCOM Report also presented poor standardized test scores of pupils as an indication of the declining quality of education. The test results of Grade 6 pupils from five separate assessments in the EDCOM Report pointed to alarming deficiencies in reading and mathematics competencies. The highest average score on a math assessment was 48.98. The reading scores were even worse, with a pitiable high of 42.8.

Unfortunately, recent National Achievement Test scores paint an equally bleak picture of the quality of education in the modern era. From the 2009-2010 to 2014-2015 school years, Grade 6 students scored on average less than 69 points on the NAT. Grade 10 students fared even worse, scoring on average only 50.75 points for the four available years of data, from 2011- 2012 school year to 2014-2015 school year.

It should be noted that the NAT was recently overhauled to evaluate the competency of students in 21st century skills - Problem Solving, Information Literacy, and Critical Thinking. The scores became even worse than before. Between SY 2015-2016 and SY 2017-2018, the average NAT score of Grade 10 pupils was 45. Grade 6 students fared even worse, notching a high average score of only 41 during the 2015-2016 school year. These scores are in the Low Proficiency range. For comparison, the lower limit of the Proficient range - or what we might call the passing grade - is all the way up at 75.

Meanwhile, data from recent international assessments are perhaps even more concerning. In 2018 the Philippines participated for the first time in the Programme for International Student Assessment or PISA - the world's most in-depth and widely recognized standardized assessment of educational performance. The results were not pretty. In fact, they were disastrous. The Philippines earned the lowest average score on the Reading exam among all 79 participating countries. Our 340 score was lower than the Dominican Republic at 342, Kosovo and Lebanon at 353, and Morocco at 359. For comparison, the second- lowest score among ASEAN countries was Indonesia at 371.

We did not fare much better on the Mathematics and Science exams. We came in second-to-last for both, with average scores of 353 and 357, respectively. We only beat out the Dominican Republic, which scored 325 and 336 respectively.Overall, only approximately one out of five 15-year-old Filipino students who took the exam reached the minimum proficiency level in each subject.

Another assessment in which the Philippines participated is the 2019 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study or TIMMS. TIMMS is another respected worldwide assessment of Grade 4 students. It is sponsored by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) and conducted in the United States by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The average score of participating Filipino students on the 2019 TIMMS was dead-last out of all 58 countries in both Math and Science. The Philippines was the only country to have an average score of less than 300, at 297, on the math exam. Pakistan, South Africa, Kuwait, and Morocco rounded out the bottom five with average scores of 328, 374, 383, and 383, respectively. Meanwhile, the average science score of the Philippines at 249 was more than 40 points lower than second-to- last place, which was Pakistan again at 290. Overall, only 19% of Filipino students assessed showed understanding of basic mathematical concepts. Only 13% showed even just limited understanding of scientific concepts.

Bibigyan ko po kayo ng mas malinaw na pagsasalarawan para mas maintindihan ng lahat kung gaano kalala ang nabanggit kong mga numero. Sa isang klase sa elementarya na kadalasan mayroong tatlumpung estudyante, lima o anim lamang sa kanila ang kayang mag solve ng Math problems na nakasulat sa blackboard at apat lang sa kanila ang nakakaintindi ng experiments sa Science. Iyan ay kung pagbabasehan ang datos ng global assessment na TIMMS. Kung ang datos naman ng PISA ang pagbabasehan, pito o walo lamang sa kadalasang apatnapung estudyante sa isang klase ng mga magsisipagtapos sa junior high school ang may sapat na kakayahan sa Reading, Math at Science.

Unfortunately, the country also did poorly on a third international assessment, the SEA-PLM. The SEA-PLM is similar to the PISA and TIMMS assessments, but designed specifically for the Southeast Asian context. SEA-PLM is run through a partnership of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization, UNICEF, and the participating countries.

On the SEA-PLM, only 17% of participating Filipino fifth graders met the minimum proficiency level in Mathematics. This means the Philippines placed fourth out of six participating ASEAN countries, besting only Myanmar at 12% and Laos at 8%. We did worse on the Reading exam, with only 10% reaching minimum proficiency. This was only higher than Laos at 2%.

Recent qualitative assessments reinforce the standardized testing results. The Philippine Informal Reading Inventory or Phil- IRI is a tool used by DepEd teachers to measure and describe the reading performance of learners. Even after reading intervention activities were conducted, almost a quarter of Grade 4-6 students assessed during SY 2018-2019 were categorized as frustrated readers - those who can only recognize some words in the text by lack comprehension of what they are reading. This translates to more than a million learners who lack basic reading proficiency as they near the end of their elementary schooling.

As painful as it may be to accept, we cannot deny that the data point to an unmistakable conclusion: our education system is in a perennial state of crisis. The decline in the quality of education observed by EDCOM thirty years ago continues on to this day. Philippine elementary and high schools have been unsuccessful in teaching the most basic and essential competencies to the vast majority of learners. Hindi maikakaila Ginoong Pangulo na hindi natututo ang marami nating mag-aaral sa paaralan. Masaklap mang tanggapin, pero lumalabas sa ating pagsusuri na bagsak ang marka ng mismong sistema ng basic education sa bansa.

If the 1991 EDCOM Report delivered a jarring wake-up call, we need something stronger this time around. We need a call-to- arms for drastic and disruptive system-wide reforms to solve the education crisis, focusing on improving learner outcomes and enhancing the quality of teacher education. I would like to emphasize the importance of the second area of focus especially. After all, learner outcomes will always rise or fall with the quality of our teachers. We will tackle this idea in depth in a separate speech dedicated to teacher education.

As Chair of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture, I assure this esteemed body that crafting quality- driven reforms will be the top priority of the committee moving forward. Aside from the almost weekly public hearings and TWG meetings that discuss the quality of basic education, we have conducted focus group discussions in partnership with Synergeia Foundation and holding consultations with experts from the Philippine Normal University and other stakeholders. We will expand the scope of these policy discussions to come up with clear-cut policy recommendation and legislative proposals in the spirit of the EDCOM Report and arrest the further erosion of learning outcomes.

Of course, any conversation about basic education reform must include the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013, more commonly known as the K to 12 Law. The governing law of our basic education system, the K to 12 Law was originally packaged as a necessary reform to address the deficiencies of the previous ten-grade curriculum and restructure the country's education goals in line with the development of 21st century competencies. Eight years after its enactment, however, it does not appear that the law has realized the intended boost in learner outcomes.

Mr. President, I have often called for a thorough review of the K to 12 Program. At this point, however, considering the perennial character of our education crisis, we need to go past merely reviewing the program. Based on the outcome of future legislative inquiries and consultations, it will be necessary to pass sweeping amendments aimed at drastically improving the quality of education provided by our basic education institutions. We will need to evaluate the efficacy of the spiral progression and mother tongue policies in their present forms, the congestion of the curriculum, and other issues in the law. Of course, we will also need to improve the quality of teacher education and training at the tertiary level - but that is an issue we will leave for another day.

In closing, Mr. President, I wish to emphasize once more the grave consequences of the continuing failure of our schools. We must remember that education is a means to an end. As stated in the Constitution, the ends are to foster patriotism and nationalism, accelerate social progress, and promote total human liberation and development. The failure of the State to deliver quality education to the Filipino masses is akin to the State fostering not patriotism but disloyalty, not progress but decay, not liberty but slavery.

Distinguished colleagues, I sincerely hope you will join me in answering the call-to-arms to drastically reform the basic education system. Hindi lamang ang kinabukasan ng mga kabataan ang nakasalalay dito. Nakataya rin dito ang kinabukasan ng buong bansa. We need to put an end to the education crisis, once and for all. I sincerely hope that we, as the Senate, can unite across party lines for this daunting yet irreducibly worthy task.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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